The wind that combs Yorkshire is a cold caress. Half closed eyelids. South bank of the River Aire, a few steps from the Royal Armuries. Looking further, you can also see a large industrial area that tangles in the arms of Call Lane. It is already beginning to carpet itself in pubs ready to soothe the fatigue of all those workers exhausted by sweat. Leeds: this is the place.
In 1974 an internal earthquake shakes the local Pallonara community: Don Revie, the guru of the club, has decided to pack ideas and suits to accept the role of manager of the England national team. Emotional crater: fans scrutinize each other with watery eyes. They feel lost, desolate. Like when the perfect girlfriend takes on a serious tone and one Sunday morning, standing next to her bed, she stabs you: “Listen, it was nice, but now I’m moving to a better apartment.”
Grim and resolute, however, Don Revie is not the type to ignore where gratitude is at home. He will leave, okay, but he is willing to leave the club that idolized him in good hands. To do this, he wets the tip of his index finger and scrolls through a column that contains a few carefully selected names. Then he gets on the phone and contacts one of his sherpas: “Yes, you got it right, I’m not kidding. No, it’s not that strange, I chose him“.
This is Brian Clough, coach of that Derby County who – relieved from the infamy of the second division – has returned to compete at the top levels of English football. Until winning the title. In the face of Leeds. Open up heaven. “Il Maledetto United” (Damned United in the original version), a film directed by Tom Hooper (the one who grossed four Oscars with The king’s speech) masterfully recounts the cataclysm generated by this choice.
Clough is not for Leeds and United has nothing to do with Clough. The contradiction is evident: in previous years Brian did not miss an opportunity to distribute blows to the Whites, accused of deplorable behavior on the pitch. He now agrees to train them. Revie’s Leeds fluctuated constantly to the limits of sporting impropriety, intimidation elevated to that violence that cannot be classified as a healthy competitive spirit. Of course, there was much more and better in that group, but the stamp with which they roamed half of England was still that.
The film, a biopic that investigates the man behind the manager to wink even at non-fans of pedestrian movements, travels as fast as those 44 terrible days spent riding a riotous thoroughbred, reluctant to any bridle. “Mister, don’t try to be my friend,” she warns him Billy Bremner upon his arrival at Elland Road. A warning that sounds like a threat because, in effect, it is a threat. Clough, a character with a sanguine temperament, tries to do something that does not belong to him: he improvises himself as a puritan. He intends to redeem this flock gone overboard. The painful expressions distributed in sequence by Micheal Sheen they do only partial justice to the reality of the facts.
Because those 44 days turn out to be an authentic circle of hell. The team does not follow him. In the practice matches the players come in hard on his ankles. Clough is the guy who was spitting blood at. The sworn enemy. There is no way that it is now being listened to. The mutiny is almost general.
Also dropped by his trusty squire, that Peter Taylor indispensable ally of a thousand battles, Clough thinks he can do it alone against everyone. Even against the president, who in the film – exacerbated by the lack of results and the lack of feeling with the club – epically belies him: “Listen, I want to give you Brian Clough advice. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, how smart you are, or how many new friends you make on television. The reality of life in football is this: the president is the boss, then there are the advisors, then the secretary, then the fans, then the players, and then at the end of it all, at the bottom of the pile, the last of the last , the person we can all do without, the fucking coach! ”.
The final reunion with Taylor, condensed in a disruptive embrace, opens up a new cut of light. Hooper lets us glimpse it. Because after the Aire another river will come, but it will be the Trent. On the banks of him plays a team in a white and red suit and for the rest you don’t need a spoiler. Clough will take it all back with interest, after suffering painfully.
This is the basic lesson of the film: we make mistakes, we suffer, we despair. But deep down in our hearts we all know that our Nottingham Forest exists and we deserve it.
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The Cursed United: those awful 44 days of Brian Clough at Leeds
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